Thursday, March 02, 2017

What counts as a substantial revision?

What counts as a substantial revision?

I have recently made changes to a work I'm querying that included working with an editor who writes in my genre, cutting about 11K words, increasing the pace, clarifying stakes, etc. so a pretty big rewrite, but it's still fundamentally the same story, albeit shinier. I received a few rejections on this book that specified that if I were to revise the agent would be willing to look at it again. How much needs to change before an agent considers it revised? Is the best approach just to reach out detailing the changes and ask if the agents are still interested?
Generally if an agent says they'll take another look, they've also said something else. Hopefully they've given you a sense of what needs to be changed: stakes, pacing, tension, the ending unfolds too quickly, your characters are all named Gertrude.

If you've fixed those things, it's a substantial revision.

If you haven't it's not.

The question then becomes how do you know if you've fixed them. What you did is exactly the right way to find out: get another set of eyeballs on your manuscript.  It doesn't have to be a paid editor but it should be someone who knows a thing or two about good storytelling and knows if you've fixed the stakes, pacing, tension and denouement.  You're on your own with the name thing of course.

But the real trick on revisions is not doing just what the agent suggested.  It's taking what the agent suggested and thinking about what ELSE needs to be revised if those things are off.

Nothing drives me crazier than having someone say "Hey, I fixed those five things you talked about" and clearly not having thought that those five things also lead to six, seven, twenty four and ten squared minus two.

Revising is where the real writing comes out.
It gets harder to revise well the more familiar you are with your work.

I can tell you one thing for sure: substantial revision takes a while.  Like months.

So if you've revised then gotten fresh eyes, then let the ms lie fallow for a time, THEN gone back and really looked at what you've got, then you just might be substantially ready to resubmit.

Any questions?


ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

"Hey, I fixed those five things" <-- to me this is the key mistake we as writers make when revising for an R/R because as you say, those might just be a few glaring issues and not the whole big picture. I think a MS in this case needs to be more than just shinier and leaner, it needs to be transformed, which is indeed, a lot harder work.

Theresa said...

This is wonderfully clear advice. I try to get this point across to my students about the drafts of their writing, but I'm seldom successful. Mostly they fix a few things I pointed out but don't look at the entirety of the piece. That's the really hard thing to do. That's what's substantial.

And I still keep thinking about OP from yesterday. I hope they've been off doing a happy dance about Janet's encouraging advice. But, you know, inquiring minds......

Unknown said...

Very timely for me. I've been feeling so whiny about this the past few days. Revising. It seems so endless sometimes. And the next person might tell you to do it over. Again. Differently. You really do have to love writing to be an author. The love is those little gusts of wind that keep pushing you (slowly, oh so slowly) through the doldrums.

Susan said...

"...those five things also lead to six, seven, twenty four and ten squared minus two.

Pretty sure my eyes just glazed over. I thought they said we wouldn't have to know algebra outside of school!

This is great advice. Revisions, not editing, are usually the hardest because it feels like you're changing so much that you're writing a new book when you were already happy with the original. But looking at it as a transformation helps. You're not only making your vision stronger for the reader, but you're helping your book become what it was meant to be...and hopefully snagging that agent in the process. Good luck, OP!

Colin Smith said...

This is good advice (of course). The temptation is always to fix what was mentioned and leave it at that. No-one enjoys a slow process, especially when the desired result seems to tantalizingly close. But part of the writer's art is looking not just at the particular issues, but what the underlying problems might be.

All the best with revisions, Opie! :)

Reminder: Don't forget to offer your suggestions for the 100th Writing Contest, which will be coming up soon. This past contest was #98 on the spreadsheet. I'm hoping Janet is allowing us to suggest whatever without fear of Carkoon--at least this time. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

And what do you have against all-Gertrudes, exactly? My Gertrudes are very clearly different. One has wavy brown hair and a grumpy personality. Another has slightly curly hair and a cranky attitude. Totally distinguishable. As for the other sixteen, well. Just pay a little attention, reader!

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, I suggest a Carkoon themed contest. Goodness knows we have ended up there often enough to know it well.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: I thought it was supposed to be a celebration?!! :-O

BTW, my paternal grandmother's name was Gertrude. Gertrude Valentine Smith. Her birthday was on February 14th. She would have been 102 this year, I believe; she was in her 90s when she died. So YAY for Gertrudes! :)

Donnaeve said...

"Revising is where the real writing comes out.
It gets harder to revise well the more familiar you are with your work."

Yes, and amen.

I do love the revision part - mostly because there is a sense of relief I've got a complete story cobbled together - albeit likely flat, dull and less than sparkly. This is when the fun begins though. Like washing a car. (or elephant) You first get the mud off, then you vacuum. Then you get to polish and shine. Call me crazy, but I do love this part.

Then again, I'm a persistent about keeping the house clean too, so maybe it's all about that.

Amy Johnson said...

OP, Congrats on having a few agents say they'll take another look after revisions. You must have something good.

OT: It's funny what'll make you laugh. Today is was "Gertrude." When I was a little girl and my mother would brush my long hair, she would give the tangles fictional relatives' names as she brushed them out, probably in an attempt to keep me still and happy and complaint-free. There was always a Cousin Gertrude. "Cousin Gertrude, what are you doing here?" And my mom would proceed to brush out Cousin Gertrude, then move on to the next "relative." (I had wavy brown hair, but I hope I didn't have a grumpy personality, Amy Schaefer. :) ) I'm belting out "Thaaaaanks for the memories..." Can you hear me up in NYC, Janet?

Mister Furkles said...

Hey, Gertrude is great name for a house pet, especially if she's a crocodile.

DLM said...

Y'all MUST NOT get me started on ancient Germanic names. Don't you know that's how I ended up writing The Ax and the Vase?

Though, come to think of it, Shiny Battle might make a nice pseudonym for our Queen - Queen Clotilde!

Sarah, the calculus of revision, it is scary stuff. Donna, I spent years between "I finished my manuscript" THEN revising it forever, then finally putting the thing away. Wait, there is a FOREST here amongst all these trees!? Colin, my granny's name was Louise, and she lived to 94, AND it was her name that led me to Clovis.

Oh, crap. I got started on ancient Germanic naming etymology. /Shutting up now/

Amy Johnson said...

Yes, Mister Furkles, Gertrude a great name for a pet crocodile! And also a fine name for a grandmother, Colin. It's a good, versatile name, and I could see how easy it would be for someone to name all her characters Gertrude.

Lennon Faris said...

Ah, yes. The problem with naming all your characters 'Gertrude.' I think all of us go through that phase at one point or another.

The whole waiting thing though, in all seriousness-- so hard and so worth it. It's amazing what you can see when you give it a little distance. Sometimes not what you want to see, but always clarifying.

Lennon Faris said...

Janet, 2nd to last sentence "THEN gone back" typo.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

As our gleaming white-toothed Queen constantly reminds us – the art of writing is in the revision, and the shiny new manuscript must sit a bit so that the writer can look at their work with clear eyes.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way, apparently the only way I can freaking learn anything. I am endeavoring to be steadfast in my revisions of my new work prior to jumping prematurely onto the query train. Yes, I get impatient.

In fact, Saturday morning, before I left on my trip, I discovered a gaping, ugly, glaring, not to be trifled with, cannot simply be severed, requires major revision, plot hole in my lovely new manuscript. I had a fair hissy fit I was so angry at myself. I was sure I had filled the hole, written the bits necessary to bridge the gaps, enthrall the reader, but no. I have note cards, not manuscript text. But I do have note cards. Hundreds of them.

Instead, in the manuscript I left Colin Shipwash, one of my MCs who one might confuse with our own Colin just hanging about in limbo, about to be torn into pieces by an irked and monstrous Cherub with no explanation of how the poor fellow ended up in such a dire situation. I think I actually injured myself I was so furious at such a glaring hole.

No doubt, more sleep and less whisky would help me so much.

Anyhow, I wiped the tears away and simmered down, made a few more notes, and put aside the manuscript so I wouldn’t go all George RR Martin and kill all my characters at once in Red Wedding style.

Then Monday, in my hotel room, at 4:30 AM, (I love to write in the wee hours), I went over other revisions, ones that I felt a little queasy about, and found that I had not done a half terrible job. In fact, the revisions were spot on – strong voice, good pace, lots of unnecessary garbage cut away. So yes, revise, let sit, revise again, let sit.

This book is taking weeks and months longer than I expected just to get this to where an editor can grapple with it. After that, it will be a fair few weeks before I send it beta reader bound.

This time, when I enter the query trenches, I want to be armed with the absolute best possible offering I can create, something that will blow the mind of fantasy fans. It’s like Gary Corby said, find the book you love the most, and write something better. That takes loads of time and revision and a hint of madness to even attempt it.

I am paraphrasing the Corby quote. Colin will have the exact quote. He always has the exact quote. Anyhow, I would say be patient. Publishing isn’t going anywhere and most agents stick around long after the closing bell.

Sherry Howard said...

The ability to revise reflects the maturity of the writer.

RachelErin said...

I am going crazy because I don't see anything in post about Gertrude. Janet mentions names, but I"m not sure what she's referring to.

I change the names of my characters All The Time, and it drives my critique group nuts.

Elise, I'm glad I'm not the only one who a) keeps thinking I've written revisions that I've only planned, and b) finds that revising takes months longer than I think it will.

I'm finishing this current revision pass on WIP #1 and moving on for a bit. It's my first novel, and I think I need distance, and to learn a bit more in #2 before deciding to query it.

I thought I could never get sick of this story. But I almost have. From what I understand, that's a good sign? It means I'm about halfway done revising?

Beth Carpenter said...

Amy, your mother sounds delightful. May I steal her? You know, as a character?

Amy Schaefer said...

RachelErin, "Your characters are all named Gertrude" is just a bit of exaggeration to illustrate a MS issue that would need to be changed. You wouldn't ever actually end up with a brace of Gertrudes; it's more likely you would have a John/Jonathan/Joe/Joseph/JJ problem - lots of similar names that can trip up the reader. I was just being silly, because I love the idea of a book of Gertrudes. What a challenge to pull it off! And absurdity is underrated.

DLM, Clotilde is a great name.

Janet Reid said...

Maybe I'm losing my mind, but what typo is Lennon Faris' seeing that I don't??

And Amy's explanation of Gertrude is spot on.

I just spent an hour editing the wrong version of a proposal. I need more coffee.

Craig F said...

Here is where reading critically can really help. You have dismantled the writing of others and learned how they work. Now critically read your own writing and get to the root of the illness. Do not just treat the symptoms (those five things to be addressed).

I once had a lime green Gremlin (by AMC) that I named Gertrude. I had to buy her Geritol by the case and she still couldn't get out of her own way.

Colin Smith said...

Janet: No typo. I think Lennon just misread the sentence. You said "IF YOU'VE THEN GONE BACK ..." and that's fine. I think Lennon read it as "IF YOU... THEN GONE BACK..." in which case THEN GO BACK would be correct. Perhaps not the best way to word the paragraph. Maybe better stated:

So if you have revised, got fresh eyes on it, let the ms lie fallow for a time, then gone back and really looked at what you've got, at that point you just might be substantially ready to resubmit.

Pardon me for being so bold, Oh Mighty QOTKU... :)

Nate Wilson said...

Janet, I don't see a typo. Maybe Lennon thinks the all-caps is a mistake?

And it's a relief to know my ms should be fine, since beyond the three main characters (Gertie, Trudy, and Gigi), there's not another Gertrude in the bunch.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Colin, my paternal grandmother's name is also Gertrude but hers is the Spanish version, Gertrudez

Colin Smith said...

Cecilia: There's a Spanish form of Gertrude?! Wow. I tell you, the education you get here. Gertrudez. There's a story in this...

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Colin, yup. It's pronounced as Her-troo-dez

Lennon Faris said...

Apparently driving you nutters for no reason, Janet. ...uh, I think I'll just mosey on outta here now... *doo-dee-doo*

If I drank coffee I would right now. Or maybe a shot. So long, folks!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Wait. Wait. Wait. Was I supposed to have a Gertrude? I don’t have any Gertrudes at all, but I could rename a character. Colin would make a fine Gertrude.

Yes Rachel, I too change my character names all the damn time during early revisions. Colin was (and I suppose is) Coleorhizae (Collie for short), but then I kept having to look up the proper spelling for his name and so I just started writing Colin. The character, himself, acknowledges that it is not his real name but the scribe at the archives could not properly spell Coleorhizae and so renamed him when Colin came to Dalmeade as a young lad. The character’s wife and friends call him “Collie” when feeling congenial.

Once Coleorhizae reached the rank of Master Archivist, everyone insisted on calling him Colin because “Collie” is a bit to informal and no matter how you stretch it, no one can properly pronounce much less spell Coleorhizae. It is a cool name, fits the character as it means “sheath”, used commonly as a botany term. Collie is the son of a world-renowned botanist so I thought…

What were we talking about?

Janet Reid said...

Lennon Faris, one way to Carkoon, or round trip?

Amy Schaefer said...

Wandering ever further from the point, I keep track of my characters in Excel. Just a few simple columns - first name, surname, how they feature in the book. Keeping the overview makes sure a) I'm consistent with spelling, and b) no two names sound too alike. I do something similar to track places and timelines, too. It's a godsend come revision time.

Colin Smith said...

Proposed update to the Comments Instructions:

Civility is enforced. Spelling/grammar mistakes may be pointed out ONLY in the blog post itself, not in any of the ensuing commenter's contributions. BE WARNED: If you point out spelling/grammar mistakes, be sure of yourself. Carkoon's Grammar Academy is full of people who called typo on something that wasn't. They are being reinstructed in the rules of grammar the hard way (hot coals, pointy sticks, and synopses...)

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: I hear the Carkoon Grammar Academy recently ordered copies of WAR AND PEACE for its synopsis writing course. Have fun! :)

RosannaM said...

Here I am at the end of the comments, deeply saddened at the sudden, but not unexpected banishment of Lennon. Will send care packages.

Alas, I have not had a revise/resend request, but I will take all of the above advice (along with Janet's) happily if I ever do. Time does do a great job of pointing giant arrows at some glaring omissions/commissions. And E.M or I have now gathered you might be Elise I make tons of note cards, but I am also prone to jotting on bits of paper. Any bits of paper. Because, you know the note cards are everywhere except where I happen to be when an idea pops into my head. Note to self, buy more note cards.

On the subject of grandmothers, I had a Bernadine and an Elizabeth.

On the subject of character names, I change them only if it starts driving me nuts typing them a hundred thousand times. I have a formerly broken right baby finger, so I try to never type P's if I can help it. So, all Pippi's Pippa's and Peppers are really off limits for my character's names.

Lennon Faris said...

Janet, typo - I think you meant to write, "CAROLINAS." Is the weather nice there right now??

Colin, I would consider that course for real. lol

Colin Smith said...

Janet: I think Lennon just asked for a one-way ticket... ;)

DLM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Davis Frain said...

Great stuff. Gosh, you get some superb education here some days. It leads me to raise my hand for s two-part question.

1A) Is there a steadfast way to determine if you need a paid editor for your ms before you resubmit?

Let's pretend the answer to 1A is "If you need to ask, the answer is get a paid editor. Then that leads to

1B) How does one go about the process of finding an editor? I've been to one writer's conference and didn't get any leads from editors who might work on my genre. I see the post on Twitter from time to time, but that doesn't seem like a viable place to start. Anyone have experience hunting down an editor for a debut work?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

John Davis Frain said...

Aside to Amy Schaefer. Love the idea of keeping track of characters via an Excel spreadsheet. Thanks for that tip.

Some columns are obvious (Name, physical description, distinguishing marks, etc.), but I'm curious if you track other things that don't come immediately to mind.

Julie Weathers said...

OP You have such a wonderful problem. Agents are interested in your manuscript. Yay you! I wish you happy revising and submitting.

Books and Writers has revised the workshop where members critique chapters or short stories, chunks of about 5,000 words. We had been doing snippets of around 750 words in another section twice a week. It's good to get everything together so people can read it in one setting.

The bad is some of the previous advice is now coming back to bite me in the butt. "I would have liked to have had a little more detail and description here." has particularly caused problems. Lawsy, don't ever ask me for description.

Anyway, the opening chapter has Lorena our MC going to the bank because her bold Irish father took out a massive note ($58,000) on the horse farm in Charleston, SC. He died in November. SC seceded in December. The bankers have decided to call the note April 8, 1861. If you know history, you'll recognize Sumter was fired on April 11. Charleston is chaos squared. Her previous farm manager has quit to join the army. She's just hired a new one and hopes he can convince the bankers they have a sound plan for the farm.

I trim quite a bit of the trip to the bank. I can add in what's happening in Charleston later.

At the bank, the bankers leave her twisting in the wind because they can, so she decides to pump a chatty secretary for information about the attorney the bank has assigned to her account. The secretary tells her all about the debate Lorena had heard a little about. The bank attorney sucker punched the new attorney she's hired and new attorney broke his nose and thrashed him soundly. Then the new attorney made a comment to the bank attorney that got the entire debate club involved. The police had to break it up. Even the ladies auxiliary got into fisticuffs. It rated two columns in the society column. The bank attorney later massacred his estranged wife's rose garden. Oh dear. Maybe she doesn't want to use him after all. He's quite unhinged, with brief periods of sanity.

Love Mrs. Whimple and the crazy attorney. The war of the roses was awesome.

Ah, the bankers have finally deigned to see her on the third floor no less. She'll be lucky if the woman(and rose)-hating attorney doesn't defenestrate her if she says the wrong thing.

Cut everything and go straight to the bankers. That's where the action is.

And this is where I realize I am not losing my hair because I'm getting old. It's because I keep pulling it out.

I'm going to cut as much as I can from the first part before she gets to the bank. I need the conversation with the secretary. It leads to something else later.

Then, like Janet said, I'll get someone to put fresh eyes on it and see if it even works. I may contact that editor I had the blue pencil with in Surrey.

Amy I love your mother.

Regarding similar names. In Far Rider I have the dead uncle named Kael and the niece who was named after him named Kaelyn. The editor I paid to go over the previous first chapters of RC and FR told me it was a no no to have similar sounding names. She then referred me to a blog post about naming characters and made a remark that if I didn't understand the first thing about basics such as naming characters maybe I should invest in some books or writing courses. I thought, "If you name your child after someone, the names tend to sound the same." I know since I am named after my grandmother they do.

Or you could have Larry and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.

DLM said...

Amy, and it really does mean Shiny Battle. If you simplify real hard. :)

I had a Plectrudis in my WIP for a while. Then she became a Carthaginian and I borrowed and slightly altered the name of a friend of mine who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Plectrudis is now Zeniv. Carthaginian names, by the way, are VERY HARD to research. Ugh. Even Zeniv is not attested; it is admittedly of my own making, but I made it pretty well.

In historical fiction, there's not so much an issue with what to name characters (they tend to come with their own), but we do run into the initial-letter issue: I had Clovis, Clotilde, Chlodomer, Clotaire, Childebert, and Chrotilda all in one family. Guess which ones were girls.

It becomes a matter of Choose Your Own Adventure (in SPELLING!). Go back far enough, and the Latinized Clovis could be Hludovechus or a lot of other variants. Modern forms include Lewis (and all ITS spellings) and Luigi. Then there's Odoacer/Odovakar, Matasuentha/Mataswintha, Audofleda/Abofled/Abdoflaed ... It doesn't stop there. Even Henry VIII's many C/Katherine's didn't spell their names the way they've been standardized now.

There are times I long to write about someone named Bob.

Colin Smith said...

Okay, this is weird. I started a story recently, but haven't touched it for at least a week or so. I just went back to my notes. The main character's name is Gertrude.

*Twilight Zone Music* 8-O

Julie Weathers said...

I've done some name changing recently. I adore my attorney who is handling my case in my father's estate and have renamed one of the attorneys in RC after him. I renamed the Richmond attorney after our Joseph Snoe. Bit parts to be sure, but fun characters.

Casey Karp said...

Donnaeve I'd pay real money to watch you vacuum an elephant. Goddess knows I have trouble vacuuming my cats!

AmySpot on with the spreadsheet idea. I've been doing that too. Name, relevant characteristics (don't want all my characters to be blondes), species, etc. On another tab, I do a chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot. Very handy for revisions and writing synopses.

Julie, I'll go you one better than Kael and Kaelyn. We had two characters named "Angeline". Intentionally. One was the other's great-grandmother. They never appeared together, and it was an important plot point that they shared a name. Still, it confused an editor--never a good idea--so we changed Angeline-the-Younger to Abigail. Then we had to justify it in-story, and gosh, it actually made for a better plot point.

So kids, what did we learn today? Yep, conventional wisdom is sometimes right. If you think you've got a good reason for having multiple Gertrudes, think hard about it. Think about it again. And then rename one of them Gunther.

Joseph S. said...

I’m in the substantial revision stage. I thought it would take three months. I’m at a year. It’s hard for many reasons, not the least of which is every chapter at first looks good to me, and I have to spend a day or day deconstructing it. Second, I sometimes feel like I’m losing the insight and creativity I had early on in the revisions. Third, while some revision is deleting, most is adding, and I’m worrying about maximum word count again.

Kate Larkindale said...

My father's sister was Gertrud (the German spelling). She was a fabulous woman. 35 years older than my father and still skiing at 90!

RachelErin said...

I found the reference to Gertrudes! Apparently I don't read the last line of paragraphs, even when I *think* I'm reading carefully.

I plead too-much-dayjob-editing this morning, of academic writing at that.

I definitely had a bunch of characters who had 'C' names in one early draft. Also names that people couldn't pronounce in their heads, and it slowed them down. I notice a lot of popular YA protags have names that are simply modifications of common names (Katniss, Katsa, etc). They are unique, but still somewhat familiar and easy to spell/pronounce.

This is a problem in my current WIP. My MC's name isn't familiar to most of my critique group, so most of them refer to her as "What's her name again?" (It's not a particularly strange name.)

Joseph S. said...

I had two major frustrations working with students on papers.

The second occurred when I’d review their submission. I’d rewrite some sentences and make other comments, expecting the student to use my comments as an example of what they needed to change throughout the paper. Instead, all they would do was incorporate my specific marks and otherwise leave the paper the same.

The first is a student would come to me for a topic. I’d suggest one and explain the reason the issue is an issue, and expect them to use that as the starting point. Then all they would do was type up my comments and call it a paper. (Even worse, sometimes they’d get the paper published and later some ‘authority’ would list it as worthwhile reading!)

Amy Johnson said...

Beth and Julie, thanks for the nice words about my mom. As I was telling the story, I was thinking, Hmmm, I might be able to use this some day in something I'm writing.

OT: Henceforth, all, feel free to refer to me as "Other Amy." Amy Schaefer was her first, and there's another other Amy here too. Alas, I'm often the other Amy. Lots of Amy's in school. Never met a Gertrude, except a character in an elementary school reader (she intentionally tore her brother's shirt and the family didn't have much money to replace it) and Cousin Gertrude who used to visit my hair. I'm considering a pseudonym. Open to suggestions.

Colin Smith said...

Amy: You could be Amy-J (AmyJay), or... Gertrude! :D

Julie Weathers said...


I used to have a horse who loved to be vacuumed. He adored it and would go to sleep while he was being groomed. There are special vacuums for horses.

I'll bow to the wisdom of changing the name. People don't even want names with the same starting letter. That isn't going to happen with historicals, sorry. It is what it is. I just need to make sure the characters are different enough people realize who we're talking about.

Nate Wilson said...

For my current WIP, I've gone one step further than Casey with her spreadsheet. Because of the number of characters involved and all the moving parts, I map out both characters and plot in my chapter-by-chapter summary.

I capture who's in each chapter (and who's the MC), plus everyone's current mood/motivation. By having all this laid out, I'm hoping it'll bring about stronger (and unique) character arcs, while steering me away from stereotypical or 1-dimensional characters. We'll see...

Amy Schaefer said...

Amy Johnson, you made me laugh. I always had another Amy in my class. People generally got around it by pointing at the Amy they wanted. Worse was ballet when I was six - in a five-girl class, there were two Amys. And I was Big Amy, because I was tall. It made me feel like a giant, rather than the graceful swan I strove to be.

Long story short, I think Amy S and Amy J would work just fine.

John Davis Frain re: Excel stuff. Here's what I generally do:
Characters: name, surname, description, role in the MS
Characters, part 2: A simple grid with main characters along the top, chapter numbers down the side. If a character appears in a chapter, they get an X in the box. I use this to make sure subplots don't die out unresolved, and that characters aren't over or underexposed.
Timeline: Draw a calendar (a month, a day, years - whatever you need). Fill in events and chapter numbers. This is strictly a sense exercise for me, and lets me tell at a glance that Event A happened six and a half days before Event D, or ensuring that the distance between breakfast and dinner isn't populated with 60 hours of events.

I also generally make a word count tracker: total word count today - total word count yesterday = words written today. I have a daily word goal, and I find this helps me meet it. I also present my total word count as a percentage of my word goal for the MS as a whole, which lets me check that I'm on track with the beats of the story.

And these are the ways we "work" when we're trying not to work.

Cyn said...

Since I've been working on my first MS—and not for days or months, but years—I'm learning a lot along the way. My beta readers gave me some great points to think about changing, in the way of clarity, structure, and pacing, and it became an opportunity to change OTHER glaring inconsistencies. My many edits have now turned into revisions, but the good news is, it is flowing along—the story AND the revisions!

Before the latest revision, though, I took a long break—a month or more—and now my "fresh eyes" are catching tons of issues. Also, I reread things I can't believe I wrote while 'in the zone.'(stuff I like)I found a good way to break away from becoming obsessed with writing the MS, was to organize my apartment! I started with my writing work space, and went on to weeding files.

I'm so glad I relaxed a bit, and didn't pressure myself to query just yet(Thanks to some of you who answered a previous question about that). I started it, but haven't revisited the last edited version.

My biggest learning curve comes from reading this blog, and the comments of all of the more experienced writers. Thank you Janet and everyone!

My favorite old-fashioned name is Mergatroid. Not sure of the origin, but I believe it was used for males and females. I always think of "heavens to Mergatroid!

Casey Karp said...

Julie Horse vacuums? I'm sure they're far too expensive for me to pick one up just because it'd be cool to have it in the living room. "Oh, that? Just our horse vacuum. What? No, we don't have a horse. What does that have to do with anything?"

But yeah, repeating first letters is unavoidable in historicals. There's a reason why great-granddaughter Angeline became Abigail rather than Gertrude.

Nate and Amy I like the spreadsheet ideas. Probably too complicated for me to execute reliably, but worth considering. I especially like Amy's word count tracker. I include a column for per-chapter word count, and in the second and following drafts I track the full novel's word count compared to the previous draft. Like Joe, much of my revision is adding, especially in the middle drafts, and that gives me some warning if I'm adding too much.

Unknown said...

Seven Kathys in second grade for me! (I must be older; the Amy clutch came later).

Love the spreadsheets ideas! I hate when I'm in the middle of something and can't remember which brother I'm talking about.

One of my WIPs (the one I'm so struggling with revising) has water as a theme. All of the major characters have names that mean something about water (although I did have to expand that to include water-related weather words). Action takes place in several countries, so that helped variety. The research was so much fun!

My great-aunt Gert (a Dakota homesteader) memorized the wood grains on the back of the Scrabble tiles, so my grandpa had to get a new set. After that, everyone had to pick their tiles blindly from a Seagrams VO bag. One of my sibs still has the bag! Fond memories...

DLM said...

Cyn, psst: I love a good Snagglepuss reference!

So, gang. Today I believe we have substantially revised Janet's original themes with this post.

Kathy, my first cat was named Gert. It might give "Gossamer" a run for the money on boy cats not being very masculinely named, but (a) gosh, it's hard to tell when puddies are extremely wee, and (b) the name has such power, who cares if it's "supposed" to be a girl's name? He wore it well, short as his poor life was.

In my class, it was all Kellies, Lauras, and Karens. By law, boys apparently all had to be named Mark, Mike, David, Jason, or Justin in 1968. My parents were scofflaws, I'm a Diane.

DLM said...

Also, if anyone hasn't cruised by, I highly recommend Casey's blog. Great writing, lotsa animules, and funny!

Casey Karp said...

Aw, DianeLM, you're making me blush. Thanks.

For the record, I only had one year when there was another Casey in my class. We disambiguated easily enough, though: Girl-Casey and Boy-Casey. Ah, more innocent days.

kathy I love your great-aunt. That is why plastic Scrabble tiles are an affront to God and Man.

DLM said...

I so need to get a new boy cat AND a girl cat, name them both Casey.

*Thinks about how Gossamer and Penelope will take to this*

*Rethinks adoption plans*

*Goes back to WIP*

Yeah, Kathy's Aunt Gert sounds pretty epic.

*Well past my 3-post limit, I believe*

*Shutting up AGAIN*

Julie Weathers said...

Casey Horse vacuums Yes, indeedy. Video (Video Replay) loved to be vacuumed.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm late to the party... again. Teetering on crazy-busy here at the sanctuary. If anyone wants to read about our hay fiasco, take a peek at my FB page.

Speaking of names: I never met another Melanie the entire time I was in school. Not a one. There was a time in my youth when I truly believed I was the only one on the planet. I recall mixed emotions when I finally met another... I wasn't ready give up being unique, yet it was fun at the same time. Now, one of my closest friends is named Melanie, and we even share the same middle name. Weird!

This was a hilarious thread, by the way. As always, the highlight of my limited computer time. (Is a string of comments still called a thread?)

Donnaeve said...

It's a J.O.B. vacuuming the elephant.

Hey Lennon! Nice to see you here in North Carkoon - Here, you get to do the rear.

Joseph S. said...

I was summoned for jury duty in 2015. They called voir dire groups of 35 from the jury pool. Afterwards we counted off numbers to be sure all 35 were in line. My group counted to 36 instead of 35. We counted again - 36. They then called names again. Turned out there were two women there with the same first and last names, and they had to go to the middle names to decide the lucky one to join our panel.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Fascinating vomments/threads to follow here.

Especially the several ideas about excel spreadsheets. I've used them for plotting and structuring and counting but names and ages and dates I've kept on word sheets in either the Flashback or the Flashforward files. I'll have to rethink that.

On Topic-
Congrats Opie, on having a shinier MS. Best of luck as you discern whether it's time to query or needs more revision.

Me? I was away from my MS long enough that I found myself back in macro revisions. That's both good news and bad news. At least I hadn't attempted to fill plot holes that were non-existent! Wait a minute....

Cyn said...

DLM: Thanks for the link. If I would have checked first, I would have gotten the spelling correct!

Julie Weathers said...


When Will went to one or the other training camps to get ready to deploy there were two J. Gonzalezes. When they finished their mission they had to do a role call to make sure they hadn't left anyone behind. They got the first Gonzalez, but the second one was missing. The sgt called the name again and someone called out, he's here, sgt. So, the trucks drove off. Gonzalez made it to the road and started walking back to base later and got picked up by another unit.

Boy did the butt chewings commence.

"Congratulations, gentlemen. Take a look at Gonzalez. You just killed him. When you get over there if you leave ANYONE behind, they will not be taken prisoner. They will not be picked up by someone else. They will not walk to the nearest town and call for help. They will be captured and tortured to death."

It drove home the point about not leaving anyone behind and duplicate names.

Beth Carpenter said...

When I was in high school, Tracey Powell was dating Stacy Howell. You could never get away with that in fiction.

Kate Higgins said...

Kind of late to comment about names but my great auntie had the nice Swedish first name of 'Gunborg' (Gun pronounced 'Goon'). She was called Gunnie for short (pronounced Goonie). Needless to say we named our daughter after the other great aunt: Tyra (pronounce "Teer rah").

Old family names can be interesting...

Julie Weathers said...


When I was doing some research on the King Ranch, i learned Henrietta King's step mother had a daughter, but her last name was the same as her maiden name. She was the daughter of a well-respected minister and high society family. The chances of her having a child out of wed lock would have been slim. I finally solved the mystery. She had married her cousin who had the same last name. He died a few years after they married. I tracked this down through old newspaper articles.

The historian for the King ranch had never been able to figure this out, so he was eternally grateful to me. It earned me the keys to the Kingdom and all the private records.

Beth Carpenter said...

Nice work, Julie. I've never dug into geneology, but I have great respect for the patience and persistance of those of you who do.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

My mom has a friend whose last name is Gates.
His first name is (no kidding) Pearly.
We also knew a couple whose last name was Doctor. They were doctors so..
Doctor Doctor and Doctor Doctor.
My great grandmother's name was Zuleme.
My last name in Swedish means Oak Mountain. Too bad I don't write fantasy.